CHAPTER SIX

"KARONGA"...

 

... became the catchword for keeping one's temper, a reminder to Sebastian and Yayuk both of consequences possible should either, ever again, do anything but. Steadily, as in day by convalescent day, the bump on Ms. Kertanegara's noggin shrank. Mr. Lazarus proved attentive, the conscientiousness of his care surprising himself... and its recipient—when distracted from the tom-tom inside her skull, its pounding intermittent but no less severe.
    "Especially in my ears; like bang, bang, bang," Yayuk described, as Sebastian led her to the bathroom, steadying her wobbly step, crouching in front of the commode so she could rest her forehead against his shoulder.
    Outings consisted of a ten-paces round-trip shuffle to Tukumbukeghe's adjoining restaurant for meals—a thrice-daily endurance test that offered merely sustenance as its reward... until boredom added weight to Yayuk's convalescence, tempting her to hazard a culinary spree to Karonga's sole alternative: ye ol' Safari Lodge. Lured by the promise of a char-broiled steak, chips, and cabbage salad, Ms. Kertanegara, hanging woozily on her helpmate's arm, managed to negotiate the cross-town trek. Her success, however, fell shy of recommending that they depart for Tanzania.
    "‘A’ for effort, Yayuk, ‘F’ for mechanics," was Sebastian's evaluation. "One Malawian bus ride might rattle your cage for good. Best not risk disaster by leaving so soon as tomorrow."
    But after five straight mostly-bed-ridden days, Yayuk was in no mood to vegetate further. Pretending a wellness the clamor in her cranium boomingly contradicted, she convinced Sebastian that the time for moving on indeed had come... the sooner the better (her ticket back to Java due to expire).
    "I will always okay," she reiterated.
    Besides, Mbeya—their next destination—was not all that far.
    So, on the final day of 1995, the couple departed Karonga destined for Songwe...

... which they reached without incident, then tried to decide whether to exchange money via one of the swarming bicyclists eager to transport them "free of charge" from Malawi to Tanzania (a mere hundred meters, at that point) in hopes of being engaged for the more strenuous (thus lucrative) five-kilometer ride to the nearest bus stop. While Yayuk stood watch for any light-fingered shenanigans, Sebastian carried out the transaction with text-book efficiency, concealing funds until the rate was firmly established, insisting the money be counted—twice—to correct the inevitable error, then tucking the shillings away before producing what remained of their no-more-useful kwacha. This done, competition resumed among the would-be 'pedalers', one man offering to carry Sebastian and "the Japanese boy" for a thousand shillings each.
    "‘The Japanese boy’?!" Sebastian parroted, with histrionic emphasis. "Are you Malawian?"
    "No; I'm Tanzanian," the cyclist proclaimed, his chest puffed out absurdly with patriotic pride.
    "Yayuk!" Sebastian called in a robust harangue. "Turn around! We’re going back to Malawi! These Tanzanians are too stupid to recognize an Indonesian woman when they see one!"
    This commentary, drawing broad smiles among the Malawi contingent, made the Tanzanian visibly cringe. To show no hard feelings, the couple hired said shame-faced fellow, plus one sturdy-looking Malawian, paying merely four hundred shillings each (which, as they had learned while clearing customs, was the going rate).
    Once more aboard fender-cushioned, one-speed, Chinese bicycles, Yayuk and Sebastian put another border behind them.

 

 

Tanzania

 

    Tanzania's south-land was a mountainous realm of mist-bearded peaks, coffee plantations, peach trees intermingled with commonplace mango, banana, and papaw, maize fields growing at steep angles throughout, villages constructed of materials so indigenous as to appear like crops themselves, their conical roofs of straw sprouting here, there, and everywhere.
    Sitting separately on a jam-packed mini-bus, Yayuk tried in vain to keep from thumping against the seat-back, distracting herself from an escalating headache by focusing on the splendid vistas all around... while Sebastian, treated to one baked banana and a bag full of peanuts bought for him when the vehicle made its second of several stops, conversed with a local farmer. Most passengers were dressed rather festively, and carried more perishables than usual. Intermixed with typical sacks of staples were cakes and brainy gobs of meat. It being New Years Eve day, moods aboard reflected the impending celebration.

Happy New Year

    Mbeya, which finally came into view, its hillside homes stacked high in a pyramid-shaped cluster, reminded Yayuk of Bogor, West Java's tea region. Being 'a little bit familiar,’ their welcome felt warm... as did the Moravian Youth Hostel, just up from where their bus terminated, a tidy, cleanly accommodation, and—due to daily rehearsals of the local choir—'melodic.' Hot showers were available (with water drawn from two cast-iron cauldrons over red-eyed coals), adding literal warmth to the couple's reception. And though they had too few shillings to pay for their cozy room and board, the management let them slide until banks reopened on Tuesday.
     After a frugal meal of eggs, chips, and Pepsi-Cola, then a slow-motion stroll from the food-stall back to their digs, the couple (fed, scrubbed, and medicated—for skin irritations, bug bites, and Yayuk's dwindling lump), retired to side-by-side bunks... content to greet the New Year with "auld lang syne" snores...
    ... until Mr. Lazarus, roused by a rising crescendo of footloose revelers, decided separation was too unromantic. As music, boisterous voices, then the tolling of church bells announced midnight far and wide, Sebastian joined his wounded ladylove—who returned his hug uncertainly, worried lest 1996 ring in more discord.

Two Days Later

    Two days and over six hundred kilometers later, the couple reached the City of Peace, Dar-Es-Salaam. Traffic lights (which they had not seen in quite some time) signaled their re-entry to "civilization"—Third-world style (Dar's chaotic streets too colorful and lively to be mistaken for the First).
    Egypt Air was objective number one. Having decided to extend their African travels, the couple needed to rearrange flight reservations (the ramifications thereof destined to be long-reaching). For openers, Yayuk's LA to Jakarta ticket would lapse on January 6th, a $700 loss that was regrettable, but less depressing than cutting short their adventures—not to mention their relationship. More worrisome was Ms. Kertanegara's American visa. It, with the New Year's turn, already had expired. Would the U.S. Embassy in Dar issue her a new one? Yayuk and Sebastian had already jumped through several bureaucratic hoops to secure the original. An extension, or a re-application, might instigate problems.
    First things first; they canceled Yayuk's Garuda flight and re-booked their Nairobi to Cairo to New York to LA to San Francisco tickets for March 1st and 2nd. Next, they exchanged travelers cheques for more shillings. Finally, instead of chancing a rejection by some unsympathetic immigration officer, they ambled off for coffee at the Salamander Café, wherein the decision was made to wait until George Lawrence & Family returned from spending Christmas back in the States. One of Sebastian's boyhood buddies, George Whittaker Lawrence
III was a high-ranking UN official stationed in Dar—whose influence might come in handy should Yayuk's visa present complications.
    "Let's go to Zanzibar tomorrow," Yayuk suggested with rare assertiveness.
    Though sufficiently energetic to hold their attention, Dar was a bit pricey. Plus, their primary reason for being in the capital was to visit the Lawrences. Without George, his Thai wife Ratiporn, and their two teenage children, big-city life held considerably less appeal. Whereas Zanzibar—the mere name conjuring up exotic images of multi-ethnic culture, Arabic architecture, and acre upon acre of succulent spices—could be reached by boat in a fleeting three-and-one-half hours...

Zanzibar

... requiring four, during which first class passengers (the sole option for non-residents) were subjected to not one but a back-to-back pair of Chuck Norris movies, the second approaching its oh-so-predictable outcome as the M.V. Muungano finally made port. Forced to choose between "I don’t step on toes, I step on necks" and setting foot on the mythical island of Zanzibar without further delay, Yayuk and Sebastian made bee-lines toward the overcrowded gangway.
    High season, meaning most things cost double, cast an initial pall over the Spice Isle's allure. Twenty U.S. dollars per night for accommodations (regardless the "free" breakfast) meant five dollars left for food and other expenses—if Yayuk and Sebastian were to stay within their budget. An alternative had to be found...
    ...and was, in the form of a private Stonetown house, to which a seaman named Abdullah led the economy-minded couple. After innumerable twists and turns through Zanzibar's unfathomable maze of alleyways, then entering a nondescript doorway, the threesome climbed a dark wooden staircase, entered a family room, only to exit immediately into an open-air atrium—off which was a squat toilet and pantry—then climbed yet another staircase, this one of stone, its steps so narrow that toes needed to be turned outward, Charlie-Chaplin fashion, to mount them, onto a balcony with laundry draped over its railing—off which stood another squat toilet with working shower—finally reaching the thresholds of two top floor rooms. Abdullah resided in the first. The second was kept in reserve, allegedly for the odd adventurous traveler. Two such in tow, Abdullah called for the key. His younger brother Ali reported that brother Mabruk had it, who would very soon return from afternoon prayers. Anxious to get some idea what might lurk behind the guestroom door, Sebastian asked for a peek at Abdullah's room. He complied. A mattress on an otherwise bare concrete floor, clothes hung from nails driven into the unadorned walls' woodwork, and a half-smoked pack of cigarettes represented evidence of a rather Spartan habitation. Unimpressed, but not yet in total despair, the couple watched Abdullah play cat burglar, passing from his room to the one adjacent via a street-side porch, a ledge, and an unlocked window. Entry for the would-be renters was thereby obtained.
    A mismatched pair of substantial-looking beds was the first encouraging sign—their under-size lumpy mattresses notwithstanding. A ceiling propeller fan—that worked—was good omen number two. And though an adjoining bathroom, with cobwebs and filthy wash basin, proved disappointing, an alternative, just down the balcony, was at their disposal. Yayuk nodded tentative approval—price depending. Whereupon Sebastian re-introduced Ms. Kertanegara as his "champion Indonesian negotiator," letting her wheel and deal with their potential next-door neighbor. The result? Eight dollars total for the first night, seven dollars for every night thereafter—payable in shillings! Affording life on Zanzibar would henceforth be a breeze.

 

 

    "Jaws corner," designated by red spray-painted lettering on one of several busy walls plastered with political slogans and posters of various candidates, was where four meandering alley-width streets intersected at obtuse angles, an epicenter of sorts that drew the couple, daily, to its age-old slice-of-life core. Tanzanian coffee—roasted, ground, and brewed on the spot—likewise enticed the pair, their craving shared with the locals, whose rowdy discourse grew rowdier upon imbibing the percolated bean. Mostly Muslims hung out on the stone steps facing this crossroads, men almost exclusively. The couple's credentials for joining them each morning were therefore dubious; Yayuk qualified religiously, Sebastian was a male, but neither exactly belonged with these rabble-rousing residents. No objections were raised, however. The fact that the foreigners seldom spoke, even to each other, but instead sat sipping and writing, writing and sipping...

(Sebastian occasionally looking up from his work-in-progress, Yayuk from her correspondence, at some attention-grabbing detail:
          the sudden gush of scent from a freshly opened jackfruit;
          voices raised in the heat of an overwrought debate;
          wind causing triangular flags of red, white, and sky-blue bunting to stir overhead;
          body sweat wafting its acrid odor from under a passing burnoose, kanga, or scarf)

... rendered their presence less intrusive, less conspicuous than were they snap-shot-shooting tourists. Or so they presumed.
    "Are you Filipino? I buy many Filipino women," was the insolence directed at Yayuk by a swarthy character in scarlet trousers who poured (in the vendor's absence) two demi-cups of coffee...
    ... and who reminded Sebastian, when Yayuk crossed back and reported what the man had said, of a similar sleaze-ball (back in Cairo) who had made so bold as to offer five camels for the petite Ms. Kertanegara. At a temporary loss for some pithy rebuke (then and now), Sebastian fixed the pimp with a castigating glare.

 

"... and lead us not...

BACK TO CONTENTS

BACK ONE
currydoglit